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SMITH BELL DODWELL SHIPPING AGENCY CORPORATION, petitioner, vs.

CATALINO BORJA and INTERNATIONAL TO WAGE AND TRANSPORT


CORPORATION, respondents.
G.R. No. 143008 June 10, 2002
PANGANIBAN, J.
DOCTRINE
Injury to Passenger Due to Acts of Co-Passenger or Stranger. The owner or
the person in possession and control of a vessel is liable for all natural and
proximate damages caused to persons and property by reason of negligence
in its management or navigation. The liability for the loss of the earning
capacity of the deceased is fixed by taking into account the net income of
the victim at the time of death -- of the incident in this case -- and that
person's probable life expectancy.
NATURE OF PETITION
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari challenging the CA Decisions
affirming the RTC Decision and denying the motion to appeal.
FACTS
Smith Bell Dodwell Shipping Agency Corporation (Smith Bell) - common
carrier
International to Wage and Transport Corporation (ITTC) - owner of the
barge
September 23, 1987
Smith Bell filed a written request with the Bureau of Customs for the
attendance of the latter's inspection team on vessel M/T King Family which
was due to arrive at the port of Manila on September 24, 1987. M/T King
Family contained 750 metric tons of alkyl benzene and methyl methacrylate
monomer.
Supervising Customs Inspector Manuel Ma. D. Nalgan instructed respondent
Catalino Borja to board said vessel and perform his duties as inspector upon
the vessel's arrival until its departure. At that time, Borja was a customs

inspector of the Bureau of Customs receiving a salary of P31,188.25 per


annum.
At About 11 a.m., September 24, 1987
While M/T King Family was unloading chemicals unto 2 barges owned by
ITTC, a sudden explosion occurred setting the vessels afire. Upon hearing
the explosion, [Borja], who was at that time inside the cabin preparing
reports, ran outside to check what happened. Again, another explosion was
heard.
Seeing the fire and fearing for his life, Borja hurriedly jumped over board to
save himself. However, the water was likewise on fire due mainly to the
spilled chemicals. Despite the tremendous heat, Borja swam his way for 1
hour until he was rescued by the people living in the squatters' area and
sent to San Juan De Dios Hospital.
After weeks of intensive care at the hospital, his attending physician
diagnosed Borja to be permanently disabled due to the incident. Borja
suffered the following damage: and injuries: "(1) chemical burns of the face
and arms; (2) inhalation of fumes from burning chemicals; (3) exposure to
the elements [while] floating in sea water for about three (3) hours; (4)
homonymous hemianopsia or blurring of the right eye [which was of]
possible toxic origin; and (5) [c]erebral
infract with neo-vascularization, left occipital region with right sided
headache and the blurring of vision of right eye."
Borja made demands against Smith Bell and ITTC for the damages caused by
the explosion. However, both denied liabilities and attributed to each other
negligence
RTC Decision
It ruled in favor of Borja and ordered Smith Bell liable for damages and loss
of income:
a) P495,360.00 as actual damages for loss of earning capacity
b) P100,000.00 for moral damages; and
c) P50,000.00 for and as reasonable attorney's fees.

Smith Bell appealed to the CA.


CA Decision
The court rejected Smith Bells appeal to exonerate it from liability and
sustained the decision of the RTC. It held that the fire had originated from
M/T King Family as supported by the testimonies of Borja and Eulogio
Laurente, eyewitness of ITTC as well as the investigation conducted by the
Special Board of Marine Inquiry and affirmed by the secretary of the
Department of National Defenses. The CA had not given probative value to
the evidence of petitioner, whose sole eyewitness had not shown up for
cross-examination.
Hence, this Petition.
ISSUE
1. Who, if any, is liable for Borja's injuries?
2. What is the proper amount of liability?
HELD
1. Smith Bell is liable. First, the testimony of its alleged eyewitness was
stricken off the record for his failure to appear for cross-examination.
Second, the documents offered to prove that the fire originated from barge.
Thus, there is nothing in the record to support [petitioner's] contention that
the fire and explosion originated from barge. The findings of the CA contain
substantial evidence already.
Further, Smith Bell is liable on the ground of quasi-delict. The elements of
quasi-delict are as follows:

Petitioner's vessel was carrying chemical cargo -- alkyl benzene and methyl
methacrylate monomer. While knowing that their vessel was carrying
dangerous inflammable chemicals, its officers and crew failed to take all the
necessary precautions to prevent an accident. Petitioner was, therefore,
negligent.
Hence, the owner or the person in possession and control of a vessel and
the vessel are liable for all natural and proximate damage caused to persons
and property by reason of negligent management or navigation.
2. In determining the reasonableness of the damages awarded under Article
1764 in conjunction with Article 2206 of the Civil Code, the factors to be
considered are:
a) life expectancy (considering the health of the victim and the mortality
table which is deemed conclusive) and loss of earning capacity;
b) pecuniary loss, loss of support and service; and
c) moral and mental sufferings.
The loss of earning capacity is based mainly on the number of years
remaining in the person's expected life span. In turn, this number is the
basis of the damages that shall be computed and the rate at which the loss
sustained by the heirs shall be fixed.
The formula for the computation of loss of earning capacity is as follows:
Net earning capacity = Life expectancy x [Gross Annual Income - Living
Expenses
(50% of gross annual income)]

a) damages suffered by the plaintiff;

where,

b) fault or negligence of the defendant; and

Life expectancy = 2/3 (80 - the age of the deceased).

c) the connection of cause and effect between the fault or negligence of the
defendant and the damages inflicted on the plaintiff.

Petitioner is correct in arguing that it is net income (or gross income less
living expenses) which is to be used in the computation of the award for loss
of income. The amount recoverable is not the loss of the entire earning,
but rather the loss of that portion of the earnings which the beneficiary
would have received."

Negligence is conduct that creates undue risk of harm to another. It is the


failure to observe that degree of care, precaution and vigilance that the
circumstances justly demand, whereby that other person suffers injury.

In other words, only net earnings, not gross earnings, are to be considered;
that is, the total of the earnings less expenses necessary in the creation of
such earnings or income, less living and other incidental expenses.
Counsel for Respondent Borja is also correct in saying that life expectancy
should not be based on the retirement age of government employees,
which is pegged at 65. Under Article 2206(1) of the Civil Code, it is assumed
that the deceased would have earned income even after retirement from a
particular job.
Respondent Borja should not be situated differently just because he was a
government employee. Private employees, given the retirement packages
provided by their companies, usually retire earlier than government
employees; yet, the life expectancy of the former is not pegged at 65 years.
The Court uses the American Experience/Expectancy Table of Mortality or
the Actuarial or Combined Experience Table of Mortality, which consistently
pegs the life span of the average Filipino at 80 years, from which it
extrapolates the estimated income to be earned by the deceased had he or
she not been killed.
For purposes of determining loss of earning capacity, life expectancy
remains at 80. Otherwise, the computation of loss of earning capacity will
never become final, being always subject to the eventuality of the victim's
death. The computation should not change even if Borja lived beyond 80
years. Fair is fair.
Loss of earning capacity = [2 (80-50)] x [(P2,752x12)-16,512] 3
= P330,240
Having been duly proven, the moral damages and attorney's fees awarded
are justified under the Civil Code's Article 2219, paragraph 2; and Article
2208, paragraph 11, respectively.
WHEREFORE, the Petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The assailed Decision is
AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS: petitioner is ordered to pay
the heirs of the victim damages in the amount of P320,240 as loss of earning
capacity, moral damages in the amount of P100,000, plus another P50,000
as attorney's fees. Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 143008

June 10, 2002


The Facts

SMITH BELL DODWELL SHIPPING AGENCY CORPORATION, petitioner,


vs.
CATALINO BORJA and INTERNATIONAL TO WAGE AND TRANSPORT
CORPORATION, respondents.

PANGANIBAN, J.:

The owner or the person in possession and control of a vessel is liable for all
natural and proximate damages caused to persons and property by reason
of negligence in its management or navigation. The liability for the loss of
the earning capacity of the deceased is fixed by taking into account the net
income of the victim at the time of death -- of the incident in this case -- and
that person's probable life expectancy.1wphi1.nt

The Case

Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of


Court, challenging the March 6, 2000 Decision1 and the April 25, 2000
Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals3 (CA) in CA-GR CV No. 57470. The
assailed Decision disposed as follows:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is hereby DENIED.


The questioned decision of the lower court is hereby AFFIRMED in toto. No
pronouncement as to costs."4

Reconsideration was denied in the assailed Resolution.

The facts of the case are set forth by the CA as follows:

"It appears that on September 23, 1987, Smith Bell [herein petitioner] filed
a written request with the Bureau of Customs for the attendance of the
latter's inspection team on vessel M/T King Family which was due to arrive
at the port of Manila on September 24, 1987.

"Said vessel contained 750 metric tons of alkyl benzene and methyl
methacrylate monomer.

"On the same day, Supervising Customs Inspector Manuel Ma. D. Nalgan
instructed [Respondent Catalino Borja] to board said vessel and perform his
duties as inspector upon the vessel's arrival until its departure. At that time,
[Borja] was a customs inspector of the Bureau of Customs receiving a salary
of P31,188.25 per annum.

"At about 11 o'clock in the morning on September 24, 1987, while M/T King
Family was unloading chemicals unto two (2) barges [--] ITTC 101 and CLC1002 [--] owned by [Respondent] ITTC, a sudden explosion occurred setting
the vessels afire. Upon hearing the explosion, [Borja], who was at that time
inside the cabin preparing reports, ran outside to check what happened.
Again, another explosion was heard.

"Seeing the fire and fearing for his life, [Borja] hurriedly jumped over board
to save himself. However, the [water] [was] likewise on fire due mainly to
the spilled chemicals. Despite the tremendous heat, [Borja] swam his way

for one (1) hour until he was rescued by the people living in the squatters'
area and sent to San Juan De Dios Hospital.

"After weeks of intensive care at the hospital, his attending physician


diagnosed [Borja] to be permanently disabled due to the incident. [Borja]
made demands against Smith Bell and ITTC for the damages caused by the
explosion. However, both denied liabilities and attributed to each other
negligence."5

The trial court6 (RTC) ruled in favor of Respondent Borja and held petitioner
liable for damages and loss of income. The RTC disposed as follows:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered ordering


[Petitioner] Smith Bell Dodwell [S]hipping Agency Corporation to pay
[Borja]:

1. The amount of P495,360.00 as actual damages for loss of earning


capacity:

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

Affirming the trial court, the CA rejected the plea of petitioner that it be
exonerated from liability for Respondent Borja's injuries. Contrary to the
claim of petitioner that no physical evidence was shown to prove that the
explosion had originated from its vessel, the CA held that the fire had
originated from M/T King Family. This conclusion was amply supported by
the testimonies of Borja and Eulogio Laurente (the eyewitness of
International Towage and Transport Corporation or ITTC) as well as by the
investigation conducted by the Special Board of Marine Inquiry and affirmed
by the secretary of the Department of National Defense. On the other hand,
the RTC, which the CA sustained, had not given probative value to the
evidence of petitioner, whose sole eyewitness had not shown up for crossexamination.

Hence, this Petition.8

The Issues

In its Memorandum,9 petitioner raises the following issues:


2. The amount of P100,000.00 for moral damages; and

3. The amount of P50,000.00 for and as reasonable attorney's fees.

"The cross-claim of [Petitioner] Smith Bell Dodwell Shipping Agency


Corporation against co-defendant International Towage and Transport
Corporation and the latter's counterclaim against [Borja] and cross-claim
with compulsory counterclaim against Smith Bell are hereby ordered
dismissed."7

"1. Whether petitioner should be held liable for the injuries of Respondent
Catalino Borja.

"2. Whether Respondent ITTC should be held liable for the injuries of
Respondent Catalino Borja.

"3. Assuming without admitting that Respondent Catalino Borja is entitled


to damages, whether Respondent Borja is entitled to the amount of
damages awarded to him by the trial court."10

side of the vessel to which the ITTC barge was tied was completely gutted
by fire, while the starboard side to which the barge CLC-1002 was tied
sustained only slight fire damage.

Simply put, these issues can be summed up in these two questions: (1) Who,
if any, is liable for Borja's injuries? (2) What is the proper amount of
liability?

Third, testimonial evidence proved that the explosion came from the barge
of the ITTC and not from its vessel. Security Guard Vivencio Estrella testified
that he had seen the sudden explosion of monomer on the barge with fire
that went up to about 60 meters. Third Mate Choi Seong Hwan and Second
Mate Nam Bang Choun of M/T King Family narrated that while they were
discharging the chemicals, they saw and heard an explosion from the barge
ITTC-101. Chief Security Guard Reynaldo Patron, in turn, testified that he
was 7 to 10 meters away from the barge when he heard the explosion from
the port side of M/T King Family and saw the barge already on fire.

This Court's Ruling

The Petition is partly meritorious.

First Issue:

We are not persuaded. Both the RTC and the CA ruled that the fire and the
explosion had originated from petitioner's vessel. Said the trial court:

Responsibility for Injuries

Petitioner avers that both lower courts labored under a misapprehension of


the facts. It claims that the documents adduced in the RTC conclusively
revealed that the explosion that caused the fire on M/T King Family had
originated from the barge ITTC-101, a conclusion based on three grounds.
First, the Survey Report (Exh. "10") dated October 21, 1987 submitted by
the Admiral Surveyors and Adjusters, Inc., showed that no part of M/T King
Family sustained any sharp or violent damage that would otherwise be
observed if indeed an explosion had occurred on it. On the other hand, the
fact that the vessel sustained cracks on its shell plating was noted in two
Survey Reports from Greutzman Divers Underwater Specialist, dated
October 6, 1987 (Exh. "11"), and during the underwater inspection on the
sunken barge ITTC-101.

Second, external fire damage on the hull of M/T King Family indicated that
the fire had started from outside the vessel and from ITTC-101. The port

"The attempts of [Petitioner] Smith Bell to shift the blame on x x x ITTC were
all for naught. First, the testimony of its alleged eyewitness was stricken off
the record for his failure to appear for cross-examination (p. 361, Record).
Second, the documents offered to prove that the fire originated from barge
ITTC-101 were all denied admission by the [c]ourt for being, in effect,
hearsay (pp. 335 and 362). x x x Thus, there is nothing in the record to
support [petitioner's] contention that the fire and explosion originated from
barge ITTC-101."11

We find no cogent reason to overturn these factual findings. Nothing is


more settled in jurisprudence than that this Court is bound by the factual
findings of the Court of Appeals when these are supported by substantial
evidence and are not under any of the exceptions in Fuentes v. Court of
Appeals;12 more so, when such findings affirm those of the trial court.13
Verily, this Court reviews only issues of law.

Amount of Liability
Negligence is conduct that creates undue risk of harm to another. It is the
failure to observe that degree of care, precaution and vigilance that the
circumstances justly demand, whereby that other person suffers injury.14
Petitioner's vessel was carrying chemical cargo -- alkyl benzene and methyl
methacrylate monomer.15 While knowing that their vessel was carrying
dangerous inflammable chemicals, its officers and crew failed to take all the
necessary precautions to prevent an accident. Petitioner was, therefore,
negligent.

The three elements of quasi delict are: (a) damages suffered by the plaintiff,
(b) fault or negligence of the defendant, and (c) the connection of cause and
effect between the fault or negligence of the defendant and the damages
inflicted on the plaintiff.16 All these elements were established in this case.
Knowing fully well that it was carrying dangerous chemicals, petitioner was
negligent in not taking all the necessary precautions in transporting the
cargo.

As a result of the fire and the explosion during the unloading of the
chemicals from petitioner's vessel, Respondent Borja suffered the following
damage: and injuries: "(1) chemical burns of the face and arms; (2)
inhalation of fumes from burning chemicals; (3) exposure to the elements
[while] floating in sea water for about three (3) hours; (4) homonymous
hemianopsia or blurring of the right eye [which was of] possible toxic origin;
and (5) [c]erebral infract with neo-vascularization, left occipital region with
right sided headache and the blurring of vision of right eye."17

Hence, the owner or the person in possession and control of a vessel and
the vessel are liable for all natural and proximate damage caused to persons
and property by reason of negligent management or navigation.18

Second Issue:

Petitioner insists that Borja is not entitled to the full amount of damages
awarded by the lower courts. It disputes the use of his gross earning as basis
for the computation of the award for loss of earning capacity. Both courts,
in computing the value of such loss, used the remaining years of the victim
as a government employee and the amount he had been receiving per
annum at the time of the incident.

Counsel for Respondent Borja, on the other hand, claims that petitioner had
no cause to complain, because the miscomputation had ironically been in its
favor. The multiplier used in the computation was erroneously based on the
remaining years in government service, instead of the life expectancy, of the
victim. Borja's counsel also points out that the award was based on the
former's meager salary in 1987, or about 23 years ago when the foreign
exchange was still P14 to $1. Hence, the questioned award is consistent
with the primary purpose of giving what is just, moral and legally due the
victim as the aggrieved party.

Both parties have a point. In determining the reasonableness of the


damages awarded under Article 1764 in conjunction with Article 2206 of the
Civil Code, the factors to be considered are: (1) life expectancy (considering
the health of the victim and the mortality table which is deemed conclusive)
and loss of earning capacity; (b) pecuniary loss, loss of support and service;
and (c) moral and mental sufferings.19 The loss of earning capacity is based
mainly on the number of years remaining in the person's expected life span.
In turn, this number is the basis of the damages that shall be computed and
the rate at which the loss sustained by the heirs shall be fixed.20

The formula for the computation of loss of earning capacity is as follows:21

Net earning capacity


=
Life expectancy x [Gross Annual Income Living Expenses (50% of gross annual income)], where life expectancy
2/3 (80 - the age of the deceased).22

Petitioner is correct in arguing that it is net income (or gross income less
living expenses) which is to be used in the computation of the award for loss
of income. Villa Rey Transit v. Court of Appeals23 explained that "the
amount recoverable is not the loss of the entire earning, but rather the loss
of that portion of the earnings which the beneficiary would have received."
Hence, in fixing the amount of the said damages, the necessary expenses of
the deceased should be deducted from his earnings.

In other words, only net earnings, not gross earnings, are to be considered;
that is, the total of the earnings less expenses necessary in the creation of
such earnings or income, less living and other incidental expenses. When
there is no showing that the living expenses constituted a smaller
percentage of the gross income, we fix the living expenses at half of the
gross income. To hold that one would have used only a small part of the
income, with the larger part going to the support of one's children, would
be conjectural and unreasonable.24

Counsel for Respondent Borja is also correct in saying that life expectancy
should not be based on the retirement age of government employees,
which is pegged at 65. In Negros Navigation Co, Inc. v. CA,25 the Court
resolved that in calculating the life expectancy of an individual for the
purpose of determining loss of earning capacity under Article 2206(1) of the
Civil Code, it is assumed that the deceased would have earned income even
after retirement from a particular job.1wphi1.nt

provided by their companies, usually retire earlier than government


employees; yet, the life expectancy of the former is not pegged at 65 years.

Petitioner avers that Respondent Borja died nine years after the incident
and, hence, his life expectancy of 80 years should yield to the reality that he
was only 59 when he actually died.

We disagree. The Court uses the American Experience/Expectancy Table of


Mortality or the Actuarial or Combined Experience Table of Mortality, which
consistently pegs the life span of the average Filipino at 80 years, from
which it extrapolates the estimated income to be earned by the deceased
had he or she not been killed.26

Respondent Borja's demise earlier than the estimated life span is of no


moment. For purposes of determining loss of earning capacity, life
expectancy remains at 80. Otherwise, the computation of loss of earning
capacity will never become final, being always subject to the eventuality of
the victim's death. The computation should not change even if Borja lived
beyond 80 years. Fair is fair.

Based on the foregoing discussion, the award for loss of earning capacity
should be computed as follows:

Loss of earning capacity

=
Respondent Borja should not be situated differently just because he was a
government employee. Private employees, given the retirement packages

[2 (80-50)] x [(P2,752x12)-16,512]
3

P330,240

Having been duly proven, the moral damages and attorney's fees awarded
are justified under the Civil Code's Article 2219, paragraph 2; and Article
2208, paragraph 11, respectively.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The assailed Decision is


AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS: petitioner is ordered to pay
the heirs of the victim damages in the amount of P320,240 as loss of earning
capacity, moral damages in the amount of P100,000, plus another P50,000
as attorney's fees. Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.